REVIEW: The Kids Are All Right

18 07 2010

Lisa Choldenko’s “The Kids Are All Right” may not have everything right, but it’s most certainly better than just alright. Her witty and insightful script is enormously entertaining, finding that perfect median between comedy and drama that so many filmmakers struggle to achieve.

Perhaps the most impressive facet of the film is how effortlessly it nails family dynamics. Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) are a married lesbian couple with two children, Joni and Laser (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson), whom they have raised to success in academics and athletics, respectively. No matter what your take is on Proposition 8, you have to admire how much this family can be any family. They hug, they kiss, they laugh, they banter, they bicker, they argue, and they love just like any other family. And it’s also incredible how Cholodenko manages to tranquilize any sort of awkwardness that might ensue from the whole “two moms” situation.

For reasons that are never quite fully explained, Laser and Joni decided to make contact with their biological father, the ungrounded Paul (Mark Ruffalo). He’s more put together than the trainwreck Ruffalo played in “You Can Count On Me” but not by much. A college drop-out who gave his seed to the sperm bank mainly for the money, he’s coasted by on casual relationships to get by. When the kids enter his life, he feels a sort of connection that taps into a longing for something more significant in life. At first, Paul meets the kids in secret, just coming to the reality that his own seed could produce something living. But looking to forge something deeper, he finds that there’s just no way around meeting Nic and Jules. He becomes a presence in the life of the family, not always welcome, and definitely causing dramatic changes for everyone.

Fortunately for Cholodenko, she landed five extremely capable actors who all understood how to play the deep emotional nuances in the script. It’s a great ensemble, and everyone just seemed to mesh. All the relationships were incredibly believable and realistic, even if not all of them were completely developed. They nail both the drama and the comedy of the script, getting the timing perfectly for the latter. All the awkward moments were executed flawlessly, and I always felt exactly what Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg wanted me to feel.

Bening plays the mom in charge, the more “male” type of the two. She’s the breadwinner and the most strict authoritarian. She channels so much of the surface charm of her character Carolyn Burnham in “American Beauty,” always trying to make everything appear better than it actually is. But at the same time, we can sense that gradually, she’s losing control of everything around her and then eventually, her own emotions. It’s a lot of the same shenanigans we saw her do in “American Beauty,” so it makes her performance seem a little less fresh. Yet the raw power is still there, and that’s what counts in the end. For what it’s worth, there’s no other actress in Hollywood who can pull off this role as well as Bening, and I wouldn’t have any other star try to do what she does best.

The kid actors are all great. Mia Wasikowska gives a very mature performance as college-bound Joni, struggling to keep a grip on reality as her life teeters between two worlds. She leaves us all but convinced that she is the burgeoning star of a new generation of great actors. Josh Hutcherson’s Laser was a lesser concern as far as the plot goes, yet he still had a tough task – to show the seldom displayed insecurities of a teenage boy. At 15 without a strong male influence in his life, he can only stare in wonder at his best friend wrestling with his dad. He lacks the strength to pull himself out of a hazardous friendship or keep himself from experimenting with drugs. As a male, he’s affected in a distinctly different way by the introduction of Paul, and there’s definitely a part of Hutcherson’s performance that will strike a chord with all males. It’s his first “adult” role, so to speak, and I can’t wait to see what lies in store for him because I think we are going to see great things.

Mark Ruffalo was in a similar boat as Bening, playing a character who, as I already mentioned, bears some similarities to the one he played in “You Can Count On Me.” His Paul is a little more unkept physically, but he’s a lovably promiscuous bachelor with a better grip on reality. He’s got a lot more charm here and proves plenty capable of delivering the laughs; where the performance lacks is in the heart, something I don’t think is entirely Ruffalo’s fault. He’s written to be the least three-dimensional of the movie’s characters, and it’s Ruffalo, who is an incredibly skilled actor, that gets robbed of a chance to show his talents.  There were some good moments between he and Hutcherson attempting to build a father-son relationship, neither quite knowing what to do; unfortunately, it went woefully underdeveloped.

But it’s Julianne Moore who absolutely brings down the house.  As the more flighty, free-spirited Jules, she wins our hearts from the get-go, even if her antics only illicit groans from her other half.  The character is very complex as she begins reeling from Paul’s introduction, exploring sides of herself she didn’t know even existed.  It’s glorious to watch Moore dig deeper and deeper into her character as the movie goes on.  She’s responsible for some of the movie’s funniest moments but also for its most effective emotional scene.  Academy, take note.  A- /


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4 responses

18 07 2010
Encore Entertainment

Oddly, though I’ve not seen this and probably won’t for some time, I’m not getting tired of reading everyone’s reviews.

20 07 2010
mcarteratthemovies

Ack — now you’ve got me even more excited to see this!

20 07 2010
Marshall

I feel for you, nothing worse that having someone write an overwhelmingly positive review of a movie that isn’t showing where you live!

11 01 2011
CMrok93

The Kids Are All Right is warmly recommended to anyone in search of smart, grown-up entertainment.

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